Stress. Pretty much everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. But do you know what it actually is and how to deal with it?
During a stressful or challenging event our body activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight or flight response. In your body, what is actually happening, is that different organs and glands are secreting hormones that are designed in some way to deal with the stressful event. The most well known hormone that is secreted to deal with stress is called cortisol. The purpose of cortisol in our system is to redistribute energy to the parts of our body that need it during a fight or flight response, ie muscles and brain. While doing this it also suppresses the immune system.
Chronic stress, which is just your body being under stress and having the appropriate responses for a long period of time, can cause serious health implications. It has been known to increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase anxiety and depression, speed the aging process and cause fatigue, headaches, IBS and back pain.
Obviously, no one wants to have to deal with any of these above symptoms, so how do we deal with stress effectively? The best way is to get out of the stressful situation or build coping mechanisms if you can't remove yourself from the situation. Which is usually easier said than done on both accounts. The following are some of the ways I have found I can reduce the symptoms of stress in my body and let go of anything I'm holding onto after a long day or week.
1. Exercise. I bet you knew I was going to say this. Tons and tons of people say that the best thing to do when they're under stress is to have a good work out. Break a sweat, maybe have a fitness instructor kick your butt in a bootcamp or spin class. When you exercise your body releases a hormone called endorphins. Simply put, endorphins reduce our body's perception of pain, similar to morphine or codeine. Therefore, these endorphins can reduce the side effects of stress in our body. Endorphins are also responsible for the "runner's high", the sense of euphoria we can experience after working out. And last but not least, endorphins help to improve our immune system.
2. Nature. I wasn't able to find any studies on this one so this is just coming from personal experience. After a particularly stressful week I find one of the best ways of making me feel better again is to spend time in nature. Go for a walk, sit at the beach, bike along the coast or even lay out in the sun. Although I do know that the negative ions found close to the ocean have a positive effect in our body, I'm not sure why just being in nature seems to help too. Sometimes it feels as though the fresh air clears my head or the pulse of the world around me reminds me that for the most part, my problems are small on the grand scheme of things. Interacting with other creatures (playing with pets, feeding ducks at the park or going to a zoo/petting zoo) always seems to bring a smile to my face too.
3. Laugh. Even though I feel like sometimes we take ourselves a little to seriously and it can be healthy and humbling to just laugh at ourselves, laughter is also good for us in other ways. Laughing actually signals to the body that in that particular moment, we are happy. Happiness can help to fight depression and anxiety which are prominent symptoms of stress. A good hearty laugh also helps to release tension in our body by relaxing our muscles, increases blood flow, boosts our immune system and actually decreases stress hormones in our body.
4. Deep breathing. I find this particularly helpful if I'm having a very stressful day. I'll take a few minutes to myself in a quiet space, close my eyes and just breath. When my mind, since it always does, starts to wander I refocus it back on my breath. It can be very helpful to count to 4 during your inhale, 5 during your exhale. Slowing your breath down helps to release tension in your body, refocus your mind and bring you back down to earth if you're like me and going a million miles a minute. Deep breathing or meditation helps to reduce negative emotions and stress, build self awareness and teaches us to focus on the present.
What to do with all of this information? Take your family, friends, partner or even dog for a walk at a local park this weekend. Watch that great comedy movie people keep recommending. Or finally go to that fitness class with the instructor you think is scary. You'll probably find one of these methods works better for you than the others and that's ok. It's about figuring out what works best for you and adding it to your daily or weekly routine.
What do you do to de-stress?